Records of the Imperial Russian Consulates in the United States, 1862-1922
By Arlene Jennings. CG
Under the Tsar’s government, Russia maintained consulates in
Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle and Portland,
Oregon. The consulates served emigrants who were still subjects of the Tsar in
their dealings with Russia, and Russian subjects in their dealings with the
United States government. If you are researching emigrants from Russia, the
microfilms of the consular records may provide a very rich resource.
Specifically, records most pertinent to genealogical research for Portland are
for the period 1883-1901; for Philadelphia 1897-1928; for New York 1903-1926;
for Chicago 1906-1920; for San Francisco 1852-1924; for Honolulu 1859-1911; and
for Seattle (and an earlier consulate at Nome, Alaska) 1887-1928.1
The National Archives in Pittsfield (NRAP) is the only
regional archive that holds the film for all consulates. Other regional
locations have the film for the city in their region only.
How did these materials come to be in the possession of the
National Archives? Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the fall of the
Tsar’s government, the Consuls remained loyal to the Tsar and continued to
provide their services financed by the US government. When the consulates
eventually closed, their records were sent to the former Russian Embassy in
Washington. They were removed shortly before the United States gave recognition
to the government of the Soviet Union in 1933 and were transferred to the
National Archives in 1949. In 1990 the original records were returned to the
Prior to this transfer however, while the originals were held
by the National Archives, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington
created a surname index for the records linking them to the numbers on the boxes
in which they were stored. And the Genealogical Society of Utah filmed the
documents. Finally a table showing the correspondence between box number and
microfilm roll number was created.3 The documents are on 180 rolls of
microfilm, and NRAP has the index on microfiche in Daitch-Motokoff soundex code.
The content of the files which have greatest value to
genealogists include nationality certificates, passport and visa applications
and correspondence, passports, correspondence on matters of inheritance, Red
Cross reports on missing persons, financial records including money transfers to
relatives still in Russia, correspondence of emigrants seeking family members
still in Russia; questions of military service; and business dealings of
At NRAP there is a finding aid, “Using the Records of the
Imperial Russian Consulates (M1846)”. It is in a white loose-leaf binder. You
will find in it the tools you will need for the search process.
To search for a surname in the Russian Consular records you
must first convert the name to the Daitch-Mokotoff 6 digit soundex code for
Eastern European names. This system is significantly more complex than the
National Archives system, but you can automatically convert name to code at the
Jewish Genealogy website <http://www.jewishgen.org/jgff/jgffweb.htm>. It is
bookmarked on the NRAP computer available to researchers. If you wish to perform
the procedure manually it is explained in the finding aid.
When you locate a name copy all information given: Column
A Surname; Column B Given names, excluding patronymics, maiden names
in parentheses (an asterisk after a woman’s surname indicates it is a maiden
name); Column C Residence (of the person at the time the record was
created); Column D Consulate & Box Number; Columns E, I Other
information on internal location of documents.
The next step is to use the finding aid, specifically the
included Pamphlet Describing M1486 to determine the microfilm roll number
from the Consulate and Box Number. Additionally the Pamphlet will provide
information about the types of materials available from the consulate that
concerns you. Since much of the content in the actual records is in Russian that
information may help to make a preliminary assessment of how useful the records
Once you have the microfilm in hand, be aware that patience will be critical.
The records are not easy to use, but the rewards can be enormous.